Housing Affordability to get ‘Worse in Spring”

As mortgage rates continue to inch higher, consumers are bracing for steeper homebuying costs this spring. Households earning the national median income of $68,000 a year could afford about 59.6 percent of new and existing homes that were sold in the fourth quarter of 2017, according to the National Association of Home Builders. The trade group’s latest report looks at home prices, mortgage interest rates, and median household income across 238 U.S. metros.

Mortgage rates have increased for the past five consecutive weeks. Lawrence Yun, chief economist for the National Association of REALTORS®, predicts that mortgage rates will reach 4.5 percent by the second half of the year. Inventory shortages along with high buyer demand, have prompted home prices to escalate, fueling bidding wars.

Source: “Will It Become Harder to Afford a Home? Experts Say Yes,” realtor.com® (Feb. 9, 2018) and National Association of Home Builders

‘Hemp Homes’ Spark Building Industry Interest

Hemp structures date back to Roman times. But now, some builders want to bring it back to their markets, since it’s known for being a fast-growing, sustainable product.

“Mixing hemp’s woody fibers with lime produces a natural, light concrete that retains thermal mass and is highly insulating,” The New York Times reports. “No pests, no mold, good acoustics, low humidity, no pesticide. It grows from seed to harvest in about four months.”

To clarify, industrial hemp is not the same as the product that can give you a buzz. It contains only 0.3 percent of the substance THC, or tetrahydrocannabinol.

Hemp is more widely used across the globe as insulation to fill walls and roofs and under floors in wood-framed buildings. It becomes stucco-like in appearance, it’s more like drywall than concrete so it can’t be used for a foundation.

Source: “High Times Beckon for Using Hemp to Build Houses,” The New York Times (Jan. 29, 2018)

Cash Sales Soar to Post-Recession High

Cash sales accounted for 8 percent of new-home sales in the fourth quarter of 2017, matching a high that has not been seen since 2014, the National Association of Home Builders reports on its Eye on Housing blog. Cash sales make up an even larger share of existing-home sales—about 20 percent in December, according to the National Association of REALTORS®.

Cash hardly makes up the bulk of financing options for buyers, however. The share of new homes financed with conventional mortgages has dropped slightly from 73.2 percent to 72.7 percent. In the fourth quarter of 2017, 12.9 percent of new-home buyers used FHA loans. The share of sales financed with FHA-backed mortgages has dropped 4 percentage points since reaching a peak in the second quarter of 2015.

Source: “Cash Sales Tie Post-Recession High,” National Association of Home Builders’ Eye on Housing blog (Jan. 26, 2018)

Millennials Are Saving More Than You Think

Millennials have been stereotyped as a generation that lacks savings or money management skills. But the data isn’t backing that up.

Sixteen percent of millennials ages 23 to 37 have $100,000 or more in savings, which is double the number of young people who had that much stowed away in 2015, a newly released survey from Bank of America shows. Nearly half—or 47 percent—have $15,000 saved, up from 33 percent in 2015.

63 percent of millennials surveyed say they are saving, compared to 64 percent of Generation X and 75 percent of baby boomers. Fifty-four percent of millennials say they have a budget; 60 percent say they “feel financially secure.” The top priorities for their savings: in case of an emergency (64%), retirement (49%), and buying a house (33%).

Source: “2018 Better Money Habits Millennial Report,” Bank of America (Winter 2018) and “Millennials: 1 in 6 Now Have $100,000 Socked Away,” USA Today (Jan. 23, 2018)

Foreclosed Homes Dip to 12-Year Low

Foreclosures hit a 12-year low in 2017, and the distressed properties remain increasingly difficult to find in many markets. Foreclosure filings in 2017—which include default notices, scheduled auctions, and bank repossessions—dropped to the lowest level since 2005.

Foreclosure starts are at a new record low nationwide. Lenders started the foreclosure process on 383,701 properties in 2017, down a whopping 82 percent from a peak of more than 2 million in 2009. That marks a new all-time low for foreclosure start data since ATTOM Data Solutions began collecting such data in 2006.


Builders Reveal Top 10 Biggest Concerns

Homebuilding is still falling short in many markets in alleviating the shrinking inventories of homes for sale. But builders are blaming the construction shortfall on several factors.

Builders revealed the following top 10 “significant” increases in cost problems they expect to face in 2018, according to the National Association of Home Builders and Wells Fargo Housing Market Index:

  1. Cost/availability of labor: 84%
  2. Building material prices: 84%
  3. Cost/availability of developed lots: 62%
  4. Impact/hook up/inspection or other fees: 60%
  5. Local/state environment regulations and policies: 45%
  6. Inaccurate appraisals: 42%
  7. Federal environment regulations and policies: 42%
  8. Difficulty obtaining zoning/permit approval: 42%
  9. Gridlock/uncertainty in Washington making buyers cautious: 42%
  10. Development standards (parling, setbacks, etc.): 38%

Source: “Building Materials Prices and Labor Access Top Challenges for 2018,” National Association of Home Builders’ Eye on Housing blog (Jan. 16, 2018)

Retirees Still Face Years of Mortgage Payments

Fewer retirees own their home free and clear, as 32 percent of homeowners ages 60 to 70 say it will take them more than another eight years to pay off their mortgage, according to American Financing’s Retirement and Mortgages survey.

However, many say they intend to age in place, with 64 percent indicating they plan to remain in their current home. Seventy-one percent say they would prefer to make home renovations rather than move, even if a health issue affected their mobility and comfort at home. However, 48 percent say they are unsure what they would do if their retirement funds ran low, making modifications questionable?

“With so many older Americans carrying mortgage debt with them later in life—and many expressing uncertainty about their financial future—this could very well prove to be an increasing concern among retirees,” according to American Financing’s report. It highlights several options for retirees, such as refinancing a mortgage or reverse mortgages. The report showed that only 19 percent of respondents knew what a reverse mortgage is.

Source: “Does Your Mortgage Retire With You?” American Financing (2018)

Prepay Property Taxes Before Losing Benefits

With tax reform signed into law, homeowners in areas with high property taxes are scrambling to prepay their 2018 tax bill in order to take advantage of deductions that will curtailed once the legislation takes effect Jan. 1. The new tax law, which Congress passed and President Donald Trump signed, caps the amount of state, local, and property taxes that homeowners can deduct at $10,000.

However, there’s no guarantee homeowners who prepay their 2018 property taxes will be able to deduct the payment. On Wednesday, the IRS posted an advisory notice that said prepaying property taxes will work only under limited circumstances. To qualify for the deduction, property taxes will need to be paid in 2017—but they also must be assessed in 2017, The New York Times reports.

Source: “Homeowners Scramble to Pre-Pay Property Taxes,” CNNMoney (Dec. 27, 2017) and “Prepaying Your Property Tax? IRS Cautions It Might Not Pay Off,” The New York Times (Dec. 27, 2017)

Insurers Could Drop Fire Coverage in California

California wildfires continue to scorch the Golden State’s southern cities, and now officials in the state fear that some insurers will drop homeowners’ coverage.

Wildfires in Southern California and earlier this fall in northern California have resulted in billions of dollars in claims. In the Sierra Nevada foothills, many homes were dropped after wildfires swept through in recent years, and some northern California homes also have seen their coverage dropped, California Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones told Reuters.

“We may see more of it,” Jones cautions.   Wow, don’t most insurance companies cover more than just California?

PS: Insurers are required to renew fire victims’ policies once. After that, homeowners could then be forced to go to specialty insurers, known as “surplus line carriers.”  Those policies can sometimes cost up to 40 percent more!

Source: “As California Fires Blaze, Homeowners Fear Losing Insurance,” Reuters/CNBC (Dec. 18, 2017)

Hot Home Trend: Bamboo Everything!

Bamboo is making its way into more home interiors. From flooring, window treatments to wall accents, furnishings and more, this sustainable material is popping up everywhere.

Some designers are making bamboo their go-to material, which RISMedia recently highlighted in the article “4 Reasons Why Bamboo Is Taking Home Décor by Storm.”

Bamboo is widely available and more affordable than many other wood products. Bamboo is traditionally considered a type of wood flooring, but it’s actually not a wood at all, but a grass. And at growth rates of three to five feet per year, bamboo is one of the fastest growing plants on Earth, which means it’s widely available for spicing up interiors.

By Melissa Dittmann Tracey, REALTOR® Magazine